Articles | Volume 11, issue 9
Research article
10 May 2011
Research article |  | 10 May 2011

Oxalate metal complexes in aerosol particles: implications for the hygroscopicity of oxalate-containing particles

T. Furukawa and Y. Takahashi

Abstract. Atmospheric aerosols have both a direct and an indirect cooling effect that influences the radiative balance at the Earth's surface. It has been estimated that the degree of cooling is large enough to weaken the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Among the cooling factors, secondary organic aerosols (SOA) play an important role in the solar radiation balance in the troposphere as SOA can act as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and extend the lifespan of clouds because of their high hygroscopic and water soluble nature. Oxalic acid is an important component of SOA, and is produced via several formation pathways in the atmosphere. However, it is not certain whether oxalic acid exists as free oxalic acid or as metal oxalate complexes in aerosols, although there is a marked difference in their solubility in water and their hygroscopicity. We employed X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy to characterize the calcium (Ca) and zinc (Zn) in aerosols collected at Tsukuba in Japan. Size-fractionated aerosol samples were collected for this purpose using an impactor aerosol sampler. It was shown that 10–60% and 20–100% of the total Ca and Zn in the finer particles (<2.1 μm) were present as Ca and Zn oxalate complexes, respectively. Oxalic acid is hygroscopic and can thus increase the CCN activity of aerosol particles, while complexes with various polyvalent metal ions such as Ca and Zn are not hygroscopic, which cannot contribute to the increase of the CCN activity of aerosols. Based on the concentrations of noncomplexed and metal-complexed oxalate species, we found that most of the oxalic acid is present as metal oxalate complexes in the aerosols, suggesting that oxalic acid does not always increase the hygroscopicity of aerosols in the atmosphere. Similar results are expected for other dicarboxylic acids, such as malonic and succinic acids. Thus, it is advisable that the cooling effect of organic aerosols should be estimated by including the information on metal oxalate complexes and metal complexes with other dicarboxylic acids in aerosols.

Final-revised paper